By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WORCESTER, Mass., Oct. 17, 2006 – Paul Brunell of Oxford, Mass., was a Marine lance corporal when he served under then-Marine 2nd Lt. Peter Pace during the Vietnam War.
“I met him in a firefight,” Brunell said. “He just ended up being the next officer to come down the line.”
Pace took command of 2nd Platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, in February 1968, near the beginning of the Tet Offensive. North Vietnamese military and the Viet Cong had taken advantage of Tet, the Chinese new year, to launch a series of attacks across South Vietnam.
When Brunell learned that now-General Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would be in Worcester for a tribute to servicemembers and their families, he wondered if it would be possible to speak with him.
“He was the last officer that I served under that I haven’t met yet,” he said. “I knew he was coming here today (and) I wrote him a letter to see if I could get a chance to meet him. Say “Hi’ to the guy, you know?”
Brunell remembers Pace as a bright young officer in Vietnam.
“He was a good man. He was a good officer. All my officers were good officers, (but) he didn’t come in as a know-it-all,” Brunell said. “He was willing to learn from the guys that had been there. Even though he had the education, he was a regular guy.”
The former lance corporal added that the chairman “doesn’t look like he’s changed a bit.”
Separated from the Corps in December 1968 after being severely wounded, Brunell spends time working with veterans organizations like the American Legion. He also said he likes to support functions like last weekend’s tribute that honored servicemembers and their families in Worcester.
“Back in my day, there wasn’t too much respect for veterans,” he said. “They’re finally being shown some appreciation.”
But that has little to do with why the former lance corporal who survived the Tet Offensive, some of the bloodiest fighting of the Vietnam War, would even consider jumping into the fray one more time.
“I’d go back right now,” he said, “because I’m a Marine first, and an American second.”
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